PETERBOROUGH — On a damp evening in late October, Mandy Rose sizes up the 20-metre-high Peterborough Lift Lock, on the Trent-Severn Waterway, and breathes in the cool air.
“It’s actually a perfect night for ghost hunting,” says Rose, 41, a personal-support worker who moonlights as a paranormal investigator.
According to Sam Tweedle, Rose’s friend and investigative assistant, the historic structure is “by far Peterborough’s most haunted spot.” Once the world’s tallest hydraulic boat lift, it has been the site of accidental deaths and suicides over the years. One of the ghosts rumoured to stalk these grounds is that of a worker who fell to his death during the lift’s construction in 1903. Legend has it that workers, unable to retrieve his body, simply built around it. And then there’s Arthur.
“Yeah, there’s supposed to be a ghost here named Arthur. He used to work here and died of a heart attack,” says Rose. “A few years back, a psychic was here and said that Arthur likes to be acknowledged, so the employees here now say, ‘Hi, Art!’ when they get to work.”
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There was no sign of Arthur, or any other paranormal activity, during the 90 minutes that TVO.org spent with Rose and Tweedle at the Peterborough Lift Lock on October 27. Admittedly, the duo had travelled light: Rose hadn’t brought her “ghost box” (designed, she says, to scan radio frequencies to detect spirits) or her night-vision camera, which, she says, has allowed her to see spirits. The only sounds — horns, engines — came from the traffic passing through the Hunter Street tunnel. (We did at one point hear what sounded like a shrieking teen; it proved to be a shrieking teen.)
It was an experience Rose had here 15 years ago that helped set her on her current path.
“A friend and I were coming home from the movies, and we were walking through here, down these stairs,” explains Rose. “All of a sudden, my friend stopped me and said, ‘Listen.’ And we stopped, and we heard footsteps on the stairs coming toward us, but there was nobody there. So we bolted — I wasn’t as brave back then.”
Around that time, Rose founded her investigation agency, Peterborough Paranormal. One of her specialties is house clearing, a process that involves burning sage and incense to rid a dwelling of negative spirits (and ease a homeowner’s paranormal perturbations). In a typical year, Rose fields between 10 and 30 requests, some of which result in full investigations. September to March is the busiest time of year, Rose says, adding that’s probably because the nights are longer.
There are those who question the legitimacy of such businesses — and not simply because they question the legitimacy of supernatural phenomena. Christopher DiCarlo, a philosopher and principal at the Guelph-based consultancy Critical Thinking Solutions, argues that presenting oneself as possessing special powers is a “recipe for fraud and exploitation.”
“Let’s say a paranormal investigator tells me my dead grandmother is in my house, trying to get to the other side,” says DiCarlo. “You’re distressing somebody over what is largely a creaking board in the attic. And that really bothers me.”
DiCarlo himself doesn’t believe the existence of ghosts — or Bigfoot or aliens or extrasensory perception — because of the lack of scientific evidence. However, he recognizes that many people do: 30 per cent of Canadians believe that people who die with unfinished business can remain on Earth as spirits, according to a 2016 Angus Reid Institute poll; 47 per cent of Canadian women (and 24 per cent of men) say it is possible to communicate with the dead. DiCarlo suggests that such beliefs may function as coping mechanisms.
“I don't want to really believe my parents are dead and gone forever. Maybe it's more comforting for me to think there's some other realm of existence and that they're okay, and I'm going to join them,” says DiCarlo. “It even has an evolutionary function. It might have contributed to the mental health and well-being of those left behind to carry on, to surviving and reproducing.”
Back at the Peterborough Lift Lock, Rose explains that she doesn’t care whether people believe her. And she rejects any suggestion that she might be exploiting or defrauding anyone, noting that she charges only a $25 fee for house-clearing services.
“I’m not in this to make people believers. If you’re a skeptic, you’re not going to believe, whether I put evidence in front of you or not.” says Rose. (She’s taken videos that she claims show lights turning on by themselves, shadows appearing seemingly out of nowhere.) But not everyone finds those convincing proof.) “I do this because there are people who contact me — and I take this very seriously — who can’t sleep, whose family is terrified. That’s what I’m all about. Trying to help those people.”
Tweedle, 44, has been interested in the spirit world since he was 13: that’s when, he says, he and his friends were chased out of a cemetery by a “pissed off” spirit. He claims to have had several run-ins with apparitions in recent years — “I’m very susceptible to energy; spirits like to dance with me,” he says — but notes that even people close to him have their doubts.
“My father is the first person to say ghosts don’t exist, they’re not real, blah, blah, blah,” says Tweedle. “But he also reads every article about Mandy in the newspaper, and he’s fascinated by it. He goes down to the McDonald’s and brags that his son is friends with the ghost girl.”
This is one in a series of stories about issues affecting eastern Ontario. It's brought to you with the assistance of Queen’s University.
Ontario Hubs are made possible by the Barry and Laurie Green Family Charitable Trust & Goldie Feldman.